Finding the African in Irish traditional music

The masters of the Irish musical tradition have done more global diplomatic work than any politician could ever do. Available now on the Link TV website is a very special example of how the Irish musician has made our unique culture welcome across the world.

Two immense ambassadors of the Irish tradition--Liam Ó Maonlaí and Paddy Keenan--were sent to the west African nation of Mali by Luachra Productions a couple of years ago to produce an award winning documentary on Irish and African music that is now available on-line in its entirety at Link TV for free, and for an indefinite time. Click over to the site, get a cup of tea, and sit back for an hour or so to witness the enormous power Irish music has to make the most exotic of cultures utterly familiar.

The film is called Dambé - The Mali Project. The movie opens with Paddy Keenan. He plays a melody on low whistle with a local flute player and drummer while village members listen, appreciate and make percussion to their music. An ancient woman dances to the sounds like a bird swimming in wind. The scene is very beautiful.

It only gets better from there. Keenan's description of his family, particularly his father's music and traveler traditions unravel and make meaningless the false distinction too often made between the "white" man and others. A big part of the Irish tradition has been the defense of it against disdain born in snobbery. In Africa, Keenan seems at home, as much as he is at home anywhere people can feel music--most people associate music, categorize and judge it from the category of that one-off association. Keenan is beyond category.

Liam Ó Maonlaí defies all attempts to put him in a box, having made his name in the rock band Hothouse Flowers that he formed with Fiachna Ó Braonáin, and coming from an Irish-speaking and traditional music family in Dublin. His mission is global, and in Africa, he is right at home too, discovering the music of Mali from its instrumentalists to "the way people talk--it's everywhere," he says in the film.

This film is airing as part of Doc-Debut, a series on Link TV that debuts a new documentary every week on US television every Saturday at 8pm Eastern.

In a similar concept, also aired a musical journey last year undertaken by the Ó Snodaigh brothers to India. Both films put the Irish music tradition in the context of human heritage everyone shares, but that not everybody gets.